DIRECT trains to Crewe, Manchester and Birmingham – and a station at Gadbrook Park serving 140,000 passengers a year.

Those are the lofty ambitions that experts believe could be achieved on the Northwich to Sandbach rail link by 2033.

Meanwhile, services to Knutsford and Altrincham could run on the line by 2027, while a station in Middlewich could also serve 140,000 passengers a year.

The forecasts have been published by consultancy firm WSP in a feasibility study which shows the options for bringing passenger trains back to Middlewich that would provide value for money.

The work will now be taken forward for a ‘strategic outline’ business case to present to the Department for Transport – and Stephen Dent, from the Mid Cheshire Rail Link campaign, believes it gives the cause a strong chance of success.

Northwich Guardian:

“It is certainly progress,” he said.

“Obviously there is a lot of work that had been done already which probably makes that business case quite easy to prepare, so hopefully that will be available in the next couple of months.

“It is quite clear that the case has been proved. It makes sense they would like it to be opened –140,000 passengers a year is a lot better than most stations in the north west for small towns, so we feel the case has been made.

“Then it is just a matter of getting the money together.”

The study suggests that there are two passenger services that could eventually run along the line and provide value for money.

An ‘eastern local’ package with two trains an hour would take trains from Middlewich and Gadbrook Park onto the eastbound Mid Cheshire Line towards Knutsford and Altrincham by 2027 – while the report adds that this service could eventually been combined with the current Manchester to Alderley Edge line, providing greater connectivity in east Cheshire.

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Meanwhile, a ‘north and west’ package with two trains an hour would provide Middlewich and Gadbrook Park with a direct link to Birmingham, Crewe, Warrington, Preston and Manchester by 2033.

The report says this would take place in line with the arrival of HS2 Phase 2b – between Crewe and Manchester – which would free up capacity at Crewe.

HS2 is now subject to an independent review that threatens to derail the project – but Stephen believes the Sandbach to Northwich line can be reopened regardless.

Mid Cheshire Rail Link has long been pushing for passenger trains to return to Middlewich for the first time since 1960.

The group’s work has gathered momentum in the past few years – winning support from Chris Grayling MP, the former transport secretary, along with local MPs, Cheshire East and West councils, and the Cheshire and Warrington local enterprise partnership (LEP), which is due to fund the next ‘strategic outline’ business case.

Cllr Andrew Cooper, Labour Cheshire West and Chester Council member for Northwich Leftwich, has worked with the group as a town council representative for several years.

Northwich Guardian:

He said: “[The study] is one more step on the road to getting the long-awaited trains. and stations at Gadbrook Park and Middlewich.

“We have been pushing for this for a long time, and this is a really important step forward and it is great to see the LEP has got the funding in place for the next stage.

“I think it is really positive to see it confirmed by an independent body that the value for money estimates were in line with what we were thinking they would be.

“The only slight disappointment is the pre-requisite that in order to get to Crewe it would be dependent on HS2. I was hopeful that the capacity would be there but maybe that is something that can be looked at.”